Exclusive interview by The Punch with the Spokesperson for the Coalition of Northern Groups, CNG, Abdul-Azeez Suleiman.
The IPOB has banned the singing of the National Anthem in Igboland and transportation of cows to the South-East. What’s your view on this?
We are not really surprised because we foresaw this scenario long ago and in 2017, took bold and necessary steps to address Nigeria on the unfolding developments. A similar communication was also addressed to the major foreign diplomatic missions represented in Nigeria, in which we drew attention to the emerging trends in the country that were pregnant with complications and unforeseen consequences. Our truly patriotic submissions at that time, though largely misunderstood, aimed to forestall the current imminent drift toward anarchy and bloodshed and also to alert Nigeria and the international community as to where responsibility would ultimately lie if such momentous and terrible events ever come to pass. The warning we issued in 2017 was deliberately distorted instead of treating it as a warning from history which repeats itself, according to Karl Marx. Today everyone can see that the agitations and disturbances that have been ongoing ceaselessly since around 2015, are systematically being manipulated towards rendering the country practically ungovernable, and ushering in of anarchy and instability that could portend towards the breakup of the country. We at the CNG are convinced beyond doubt that the resurgence of separatist agitations especially by IPOB and its ilk in the South-East represent a much wider conspiracy to divide Nigeria and the current regime of boycotts announced by IPOB, aims to bring the North down on its knees by economic incapacitation and political balkanisation. The specific targeting of the North by the ban order that inadvertently exposes Northerners to imminent attacks and irreverent treatment is aimed at causing inter-regional crisis possibly leading to a civil war or general unrest. With regard to the banning of the Nigerian national anthem, we believe it is a state affair as it touches on the very foundation of our shared values. We hope and believe that the relevant authorities would not handle this matter with levity or condescension. The time is now therefore, for the so called respected Igbo leaders who in November visited Buhari and pleaded for Kanu’s freedom to act, if actually they are sincere.
Your group, the CNG in turn called for a total boycott of all businesses operated by the Igbo all over the North as well as calling on Northerners everywhere to decline support for any political party or formation or movement that has the active participation of South-East politicians, effective from April 2022. Do you think it is the best way in tackling the IPOB matter?
Yes of course, this seems to be the only language they will understand because we cannot be expected to look the other way, with the North turned into the target of abuse by IPOB and other secessionist groups. It is important to place on record that in the past, the North has remained the bulwark of decency, morality, etiquette, accommodation, and all other positive traits. But in spite of this studied and dignified reserve of the North and refusal by its people to engage in altercations with its self-appointed enemies and antagonists, no stone is being left unturned to see that the North is goaded into reacting. In the process, history is being shamefully and blatantly reviewed, rewritten and falsified to suit certain agendas that tend to portray the North in bad light and render it as the culprit and the guilty entity. They have accused the North for committing every sin under the sun. They have vilified the North, and in the past, killed its leaders, scandalised its institutions and ridiculed its traditions and customs. They have under various guises tried to bring down the North by undermining its economic and social fabrics, and encouraging rampant social problems like armed robbery, kidnapping, prostitution, drug and substance abuse. All this while, the North bore the difficulties with equanimity, stoical calm and resignation as the obvious target of all the complaints about virtually everything that is seen as wrong in the system..
Don’t you think the ban on movement of livestock and foodstuffs from the North to South- East will affect northern traders too?
We are quite aware that when the rain falls, it won’t only fall on one man’s house top. But the only thing we are doing is legitimately reacting to a threat. We did not start it, but as is always the case, whenever the North reacts in kind to a provocation or threat to its interest, the nation finds its voice. There is however no escaping the truth that the North remains the only region with the decent tolerance not to threaten to secede at the slightest of pretences. The North has been the provocateur yet the aggressors try to play the victim whenever the North resists their antics as in the present case. Of course, the economy and commercial health of both sides would suffer the consequences of the cross boycott but like I pointed out, this remains the only language they will ever understand. But the North has no real regrets for refusing to continue to watch events with considerable restraint and maturity of the past, to the point of condoning and accommodating several unreasonable and unacceptable actions that have been perpetrated against Nigerians collectively, and northerners in particular.
The President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari(retd) said the leader of the IPOB, Mazi Kanu, must face the law of the country in spite plea from the leaders from the South-East that ‘political solution’ be applied on the detained IPOB leader. Do you agree that’s the best way to handle the matter?
Of course. The laws of the land should not be seen to be applied differentially unless we want to set a dangerous precedent. It is curious that the North remains the only part of the country with the ordinary decency to allow the law to take its full course where its people fall foul of the law. We are absolutely convinced that releasing Nnamdi Kanu outside the court processes will undermine Nigeria’s criminal justice system and reduce Nigeria to a lawless state where criminals commit crimes and ask their leaders to press for their release.
The ACF said the banning of the singing of the National Anthem and the stoppage of ‘Fulani cows’ from being transported to the South-East by the IPOB, amount to a declaration of war. What’s your view on this?
We absolutely align with the position of the ACF that IPOB, by that order, has literally declared war on the Nigerian state and citizens with a specific hatred for Northerners. This was how the 1966 civil war was started by the same Igbo. We are particularly concerned that the targeting of the North and singling its people who live in the South-East by the planned IPOB blockade is part of a wider agenda with its roots in history. They are linked to the unrelenting disturbances created by certain interest groups in the South-East, in the form of the agitation for a separate State of Biafra that have been going on since independence and intermittently assuming violent dimensions. IPOB’s pronouncements therefore certainly represent a major step-up in the persistent calls for war by IPOB and other authors of mindless violence and separatism who see it as their duty to actualise what their fathers started in 1966, through the force of arms and terrorist tactics which have of late reached a point whereby silence has become complicity and inaction is no longer an option. This boycott order by IPOB is meant to instigate unprovoked evictions, attacks and killings of northerners in various parts of the South-East that would result from the hate campaigns and propaganda being conducted by regional and ethnic agitators, aimed mainly at instigating reprisals by northerners against people from other parts of the country. This latest directive and the mindless violence and extremist terrorist actions perpetrated by IPOB in the past are what made it impossible for ACF and the rest of us to remain indifferent or silent in the face of such extreme provocations and insistent drive towards civil strife in the country. Even before this boycott order, the diabolical scheme planned and exhibited in the actions and clamours of IPOB, supported morally and politically by the vast majority of the pliant and affrighted Igbo elites, politicians, traditional rulers, and business persons have pushed Nigeria to the precipice.
What in your own view is the way out of this quagmire?
The way forward as far as we are concerned is for a referendum to be conducted for a comprehensive review of the terms of our coexistence. It is no longer in doubt that the perpetrators of violence relentlessly pursuing this agenda of destruction and collective mayhem, fervently hope it will engulf the entire country and bring about another civil war and mass killings and suffering of innocent people. Having failed to achieve the nefarious objective a second time by hijacking the #EndSARS agitations and inciting the violence and destruction that followed in its wake, long-practiced tactics are now being played out in the form of inciting attacks against northerners and against agents and symbols of the Federal Government of Nigeria in the South-East. This is why as representatives of the vast majority of Northern population, the CNG took the bold step in June last year to address a petition to every significant component of the northern society in that regard. Similar representations were made to the leadership of the National Assembly and on June 9, 2021 in which the CNG made the following key demands from the federal Parliament: The immediate suspension of the ongoing exercise for the review of the 1999 constitution and concentrating on the first priority of determining who and what actually constitute Nigeria as a nation in the present circumstance in which the Igbo, by taking up arms against the Nigerian state for the third time, have foreclosed every hope for the rest of us to continue coexisting with them as one nation. In order to achieve the final separation of the Igbo from the rest of Nigeria.